Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public

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In the course of more than sixty years spent covering Washington politics, Helen Thomas has witnessed firsthand a raft of fundamental changes in the way news is gathered and reported. Today, she sees a growing -- and alarming -- reluctance among reporters to question government spokesmen and probe for the truth. The result has been a wholesale failure by journalists to fulfill what is arguably their most vital role in contemporary American life -- to be the watchdogs of ...
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2006 Hardcover N jacket Brand New, Hardcover with dust jacket, clean, tight, unmarked In the course of more than sixty years spent covering Washington politics, Helen Thomas ... has witnessed a raft of fundamental changes in the way news is gathered and reported. Gone are the days of frequent firsthand contact with the president. Now, the press sees the president only at tightly controlled and orchestrated press conferences. All orders are shipped by kbooks every business day. Read more Show Less

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Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public

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Overview

In the course of more than sixty years spent covering Washington politics, Helen Thomas has witnessed firsthand a raft of fundamental changes in the way news is gathered and reported. Today, she sees a growing -- and alarming -- reluctance among reporters to question government spokesmen and probe for the truth. The result has been a wholesale failure by journalists to fulfill what is arguably their most vital role in contemporary American life -- to be the watchdogs of democracy.

Here, the legendary journalist and bestselling author delivers a hard-hitting manifesto on the precipitous decline in the quality and ethics of political reportage -- and issues a clarion call for change. Thomas confronts some of the most significant issues of the day and provides readers with rich historical perspective on the roots of American journalism, the circumstances attending the rise and fall of its golden age, and the nature and consequences of its current shortcomings. The book is a powerful, eye-opening discourse on the state of political reportage -- as well as a welcome and inspiring demand for meaningful and lasting reform.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thomas, who has been covering Washington for more than 60 years, is displeased with the way in which the government tries to manipulate the news as never before; the press, diminished and monopolized by big business kowtowing to advertisers is "supine"; and dishonesty is everywhere. Thomas believes in a healthy adversarial challenge between government and press, but her explanation of her stance sometimes veers off track. She characterizes the nine presidents (beginning with Kennedy) she has covered, each of whom tried to spin the news his own way (Nixon, for a while, resorted to total blackout). Thomas dates the ever widening "credibility gap" back to the Vietnam War under Johnson. By this time, message management had reached the point of "outright propaganda." Readers will be entertained by her definition of the terms "background" and "off the record" and the difference between a "leak" and a "plant." But Thomas sees a bright side: she applauds trenchant political cartoonists and believes that the active public interest expressed in Internet blogs may help create transparency. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The inimitable Thomas (Dateline: White House)-"dean of the White House press corps"-blends memoir with American political and media history to deliver a pointed critique of the Bush administration's war in Iraq and the devastating failure of the press to perform its duty to "follow the truth, without fear or favor, wherever it leads them." Having spent 60 years as a journalist, during which time she covered nine U.S. presidents, Thomas enjoys an unparalleled vantage point from which to recount the highs and lows of her profession and document the myriad ways it has changed. The consolidation of media ownership, the quest for profits, and the scandals and ethical lapses of reporters and publishers have all contributed to the current low public opinion of the news media. But the failure of reporters to ask tough questions in the face of unprecedented governmental efforts to manage information in the post-9/11 world has done a tremendous disservice to the public and a personal disappointment to Thomas, who calls for a return to fair, honest reporting that delivers the facts without spin. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Donna L. Davey, New York Univ. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The octogenarian doyenne of the White House press troupe (long privileged to end press conferences with "Thank you, Mr. President") reports on the current state of journalism and finds the profession remiss in many substantial ways. The respected newsman Elmer Davis once complained of "the false objectivity that . . . lets the public be imposed upon by the charlatan with the most brazen front." Half a century later, Thomas (Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President, 2002, etc.) makes the same complaint, along with some other pertinent charges. She speaks of lying staffers, inventors of facts and arrant plagiarizers, of planted stories and purchased "news," of ranting analysts and "reporters" bearing spurious credentials. Teletypes and scoops by telephone may be history, but managed stories abound, and spin doctors thrive even when talented investigative reporters and muckrakers are most needed. In addition to the current general malaise in the news business, Thomas recalls the many presidents she covered, the press secretaries she bothered, the political scandals and the political wives she encountered. This is history lite, instructive to those (journalism students in particular) who may never have heard of Watergate or the Bay of Pigs. The text includes typical transcripts of Thomas hassling a White House spokesman or two. There's a discussion of the defunct FCC "fairness doctrine," thoughts on the problem of "embedded" war coverage and an analysis of the current law of privilege to protect sources. With a salute to great journalists of the past century and accounts of harmless Air Force One and East Wing chitchat, there are no revelations here that would raise a flag at the NSA. Theauthor's most imperative message, after all, is that reporters and politicos are natural enemies-or should be. The answer to the title: Journalists, the putative watchdogs of democracy, are becoming the lapdogs of government. Thank you, Mr. President.
From the Publisher
"Helen Thomas delivers a scathing rebuke to the media in her classic, tell-it-like-it-is style.... Thomas's book sounds the alarm to the media and the public."
The Christian Science Monitor

"Watchdogs of Democracy? encourages reflection on the roots of American journalism, its mission, and its uncertain future."
— Associated Press

"Thomas is as engaging as she is passionate in this...refresher course on why we must support a responsible, active, and free press."
Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743267816
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 6/20/2006
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Helen Thomas is the dean of the White House press corps. The recipient of more than forty honorary degrees, she was honored in 1998 with the inaugural Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, established by the White House Correspondents' Association. The author of Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President; Front Row at the White House; and Dateline: White House, she lives in Washington, D.C., where she writes a syndicated column for Hearst.

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Table of Contents

1 Journalism - a most honorable profession 1
2 Eruptions of corruption 13
3 Presidents and reporters - never the twain shall meet 26
4 Press secretaries - in the bull's-eye 36
5 Spinning the news 57
6 Hail to the heroic leakers and whistle-blowers - and the journalists who protect them 87
7 Newspapers are a business, too 112
8 The FCC - fair and balanced? 124
9 Lapdogs of the press 135
10 Foreign correspondents in Iraq - deja vu all over again! 153
11 The greatest American journalists of our times 169
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

    Ivorypaw

    Fainted at the thought of her sis never coming home.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Skypaw

    Nods

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2014

    Tigerblaze

    (Yes...as scarletfeather..and shadowfeather...oh wait..i dont. I rp in the dark forest. Ever since i joined...its became much more dangerous. We started attacking more often. And ever since i joined...many more followed xP) tigerstar nodded. "Skypaw, just call me tigerblaze in private. Im still getting used to it and i keep writing tigerblaze" he said shuffling his paws. "Ok, well, when you go after squirrel, its basic hunting crouch, same as mouse. When you go after a rabbit, dont dare make a noise. It can hear things alot better then a mouse can." He explained.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2013

    Eyes

    Shimmering green eyes appeared, watching, giving strength to Swiftheart. Strength of heart, and the ability to be the kindest cat in the clan. "You are destined for greatness, Swiftheart..."a cat whispered.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2013

    Nitestar

    He nodded

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2006

    the importance of the press

    In the course of her 60 year career covering the White House, Helen THOMAS has covered over 9 administrations and has had a front row seat in witnessing the changes, some good and some bad, in journalism. Woven throughout this essay on the importance of unbiased, truthful and independent reporting are personal anecdotes and comments from her experience in the White House since the Kennedy administration. These stories illustrate the changing face of journalism and the way administrations treat journalists and offered information. She highlights the important role newspapers play, or rather should play in informing the public and in enabling a true democratic process. She underlines several times that the American public is now better informed than ever with access to various media outlets and is also more misinformed than ever before, hence the subtitle 'The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public'. In her argument, because it is clearly a liberal influenced point of view, THOMAS declares that the press corps did not fulfill its' role in the post 9/11 Iraqi war timeframe. She declares that the freedom of the press has in effect been hindered by the various corporate takeovers which created media conglomerates more concerned with the bottom-line and audience than with strong reporting, by more and more direct intervention/ manipulation from the Administration (especially post 9/11) preoccupied with putting out the 'government spin', and the lack of competition for the A.P wire service. THOMAS does a very good, concise job in pointing out the situation and how the press corps seemingly has become more 'lapdogs' than watchdogs. Indeed she argues that the press is supposed to be the watchdog of democracy, the 'guardians of the peoples right to know', but has failed to do so recently, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 - even if there seems to be a sort of journalistic epiphany taking place. ' But the current reporters are a new generation covering the White House, and it's a different Administration - and both had much to learn following 9/11 and the increase of terrorism around the world.' She argues that one of the things is needed is return to 'good old-fashioned' journalistic integrity and ethics. We can only agree with her when she states in her Epilogue ' I believe that the media has to do some soul-searching to determine its role in the future after a rocky start in the 21st century.' While raising the flag for the fight for journalistic standards is necessary what THOMAS perhaps fails to do in this wake up call to journalistic integrity is to propose how to implement change since it is not possible to turn back the clock and undo the corporate takeovers, the multimedia explosion and the advent of the internet. Her argument is a starting point, it is up to us , the public, to make sure that the Press Corps follows through and to ensure that the debate does not die and therefore influences the reporters of tomorrow. For as THOMAS concludes, citing Abraham Lincoln, ' Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2006

    Thank You Helen Thomas

    I purchased Watchdogs of Democracy because I knew I would enjoy and learn from Helen Thomas once again and I was not disappointed. I read Front Row at the White House when it was published in hardcover and could not put it down. The book helps me sleep a little more peacefully at night, knowing she is at the helm watching the White House. I hope that somewhere journalists will follow in her 'Seek and Tell the Truth' history of reporting. If Iraq was photographed, reported on and the public could see the bodybags and coffins coming home like we did with Viet Nam, the war's life would be shortened.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2006

    Very interesting book

    I enjoyed this new book by Helen Thomas, I also got 'Remember to Laugh' by Maggie Kilgore, a friend of Helen's. Both books provide interesting insight into the careers of pioneering female journalists.

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